WHAT YOU'LL NEED Letterboxing is a fairly inexpensive pastime. At minimum you will need a pencil, a hand-carved or purchased stamp and inkpad, and a personal logbook. A compass is optional. Hand-carved stamps can be made from art gum erasers, Styrofoam meat trays or craft foam. There are simple instructions for making them on both websites cited in this article. There is also a more technical version of letterboxing called geocaching. It depends on many of the same principals as letterboxing but boxes are hidden and located using coordinates on a GPS. Information about geocaching can be found online at geocaching.com. -GN a short stop to look for a letterbox is just the ticket for tired travelers. I'm new to letterboxing and delighted by how easy it's been to get started. Two websites have simple search engines that allow you to find clues for boxes hidden just about anywhere in the United States: letterboxing.org and atlasquest.com. There are more than 120 boxes hidden in the Shenandoah Valley and hundreds more in the counties that line the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some boxes like the one we found can be located a few steps beyond your parking place while others require a compass and a lengthy hike. For example, here's a bit of a clue for a box hidden in Powell County, Ky.: "Walk 30 paces down the hill. Turn to 258 degrees west and climb up the hill a tad to the left of the trail." Whether off the beaten path or in the middle of the city, all letterboxes are well-hidden, and it will take careful searching to find one. Once you locate the box, sign the guest book, and stamp it with your personal stamp. Then use the stamp you find in the box to mark your own journal. If your box includes small treasures like interesting coins or postcards, you hand-carved stamps. Clues for boxes are published in a catalogue or passed by word of mouth. 1998: Smithsonian magazine publishes an article called "They Live and Breathe Letterboxing" and Americans become intrigued. (This is how I first learned about letterboxing.) While there were boxes in the United States before this, the hobby grows exponentially after publication of the article. Present Day: Clubs are formed as letterboxers find each other online. More than 10,000 letterboxes are estimated to be hidden in the continental U.S. -GN Zoë, Ginny Neil's 11-year-old letterboxing partner, stands with the Hokey Pokey box guest book and stamp. may take one, but you must leave something of equal or greater value. After stamping my book, Zoë replaces the box. We tuck it out of sight so no one, except someone searching for a letterbox, will find it. Then we start back. There's another box close by and it requires a short hike to the other side of the hill. My son Scott is a Virginia Tech Hokie and I'm betting this box, which is called "The Hokey Pokey," will have a stamp he'd like to see. We find the overlook which faces towards Blacksburg, but our clue sends us north up a hill. This time I find the box. The stamp is not the Hokie bird I anticipated, but rather a girl who appears to be doing the Hokey Pokey. Scott will not be amused. This set of boxes has obviously been placed by a UVA fan. That's all there is to it. So next time you plan a trip across the region or maybe even to the grocery store, include time for a treasure hunt. You never know what you might learn along the way. STORY AND PHOTOS BY GINNY NEIL MARCH/APRIL 2011 | 13

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